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Educator uses photography to connect youth with outdoors

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BY WIL MacALLISTER
The children in the photographs can be seen in forests, fields and on the edge of wetlands with their trusted weapons in hand and ready to shoot. They smile as the shutter on their cameras click, capturing the nature and wildlife that is all around them. Steve Maanum, pointing out the smiles on all of the children’s faces, said they remind him why he does what he does.
Maanum has been an educator in Minnesota since 1973 and incorporates photography into his teaching efforts as a means to help connect children with the natural world around them. He shared a quote from Rachel Carson, a marine biologist best known for her 1962 book, “Silent Spring”: “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”
Maanum said the quote, which reflects part of the OWAA mission statement, is all about mentoring and using the skills God gave each of us to help others.
“I’d like to see myself as a good nature photographer and writer,” Maanum said, “but the bottom line is – I’m an educator first.”
He said that if somewhere along the way he has helped to make a positive difference in a child’s life by connecting them to nature, then he couldn’t ask for anything more rewarding. Maanum said the selling points of joining OWAA were the mission statement, the friendliness of the staff, and the organization’s focus on assisting young people in becoming outdoor communicators.
Mark Lukes, founding president of the North American Nature Photography Association, said Maanum is full of energy and enthusiasm. Lukes first met Maanum five years ago when Maanum approached NANPA about collaborating on youth education projects. “I was completely impressed with his passion and organization,” Lukes said. “He is a gentleman with honesty and integrity and you can’t help but believe in him.” Lukes added that Maanum truly deserves recognition for his work and accomplishments in education.
Maanum is currently the greater Minnesota project coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Digital Photography Bridge to Nature program. The goal of the program is to help stop “Nature Deficit Disorder” in today’s youth by providing workshops for teachers on how to incorporate photography with nature studies into their existing curriculums. The goal set at the start of the program in 2010 was to train 1,000 teachers within two years. The project has exceeded this goal, having trained 1,026 teachers in 14 months. Maanum is also part of Through the Lens of a Camera, a predecessor and partial model for the state project, aimed at training non-formal educators such as 4-H staff and youth leaders of after-school programs.
Maanum’s journalism background has been primarily writing for newspapers and magazines. He is currently writing “My Endless Childhood,” a monthly column for The Midwest Boomers, published by The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He wrote a weekly outdoor column for the Park Rapids Enterprise called “From Backyards to Backwoods” and has also produced two half-hour television episodes for Lakeland Public Television, a Minnesota PBS branch, called “Getting In Touch With Nature.”
Jim Mallman, president of Watchable Wildlife, said one thing that always comes through when interacting with Maanum is that he’s extremely caring.
“He finds the good in everybody and finds the good in every day,” Mallman said.
Maanum was born and raised in Minnesota and attributes his passion for nature and photography to three mentors he had while growing up. The first was his father who introduced him to hunting and fishing at an early age. The second was his step-grandfather who provided him with his first camera training at the age of 12.
The third was his scout leader who was a local professional photographer who nurtured Maanum’s nature studies as well as photography interests.
In 1972, Maanum graduated from Bemidji State University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a minor in speech and language arts. He then taught from 1973-2007; the majority of that time was spent teaching fifth grade in Park Rapids, Minn. Maanum said the hardest letter he ever had to write was his resignation for retirement. He chose to retire after 34 years to pursue the Digital Bridge projects and work as a freelance writer and photographer. Maanum also has several book manuscripts, one of which is a children’s chapter book he is hoping to publish in the near future.
Maanum currently resides with his wife, Deb, in Minnesota. They have two children, Carrie and Scott, a first-grade teacher and a doctor, respectively, and five grandchildren. ♦
—Born and raised in New Hampshire, Wil MacAllister has been in Montana for five years while completing his bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was the 2011 fall semester intern at OWAA headquarters
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